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The battle for short-form video

I’ve been a little distracted by the political drama surrounding TikTok. 

But as entertaining as it is to see Trump’s antics and Microsoft rushing to meet the September 15th deadline, the bigger picture here isn’t just about the politics.

It’s about who will own short-form video – and with it the attention of today’s teens and twentysomethings.

As the experts put it, Gen Z’ers are not only trying to get their parents to buy them stuff, but mom and dad are listening to their opinions on what to buy for themselves. And these opinions are, in turn, influenced by YouTubers, Twitch streamers and TikTok creators.

The future of influencing is short-form video.

And everyone’s got their play.

Yesterday Facebook officially launched Reels in 50 countries.

Instagram’s Reels is TikTok in every way, except it only lets you make 15-second videos – so you know not exactly the same.

Facebook is no stranger to copying features from smaller apps. It’s not like they can buy them off, not with the antitrust authorities breathing down their necks.

Still, the timing of this launch couldn’t be perfect.

For a long time, nobody was quite sure what TikTok was all about. And just as advertisers were warming up to it, their troubles in the US started. 

Enter Instagram. It’s familiar, your fans are already there so, why not give Reels a go instead?

Instagram is quickly turning into Facebook’s super-clone-app. But I still like Instagram and as Sara Frier wrote in Bloomberg, Instagram has what Facebook does not, which makes it Zuckerberg’s best bet at staying relevant.

Snap Chat’s attempt at giving uncertain TikTok users a new home.

Last week Snap Chat introduced a new feature that, just like TikTok, allows users to add music to their snaps. 

I’m excited to say that they didn’t stop there. As TechCrunch reported, users will be able to swipe up to view the ‘album art’ and even listen to the whole song on their favourite streaming app.

See, Zuck, it’s really not that hard.

Before TikTok came along, Snap Chat was the app for teenagers. Although they have a large userbase outside the US, they reach more teenagers and twentysomethings in the US than Facebook, Messenger and Instagram combined.

“Snapchat says its music feature, however, will allow fans to form deeper connections with artists and music. It also spoke to its strength in being a tool for close friends, which gives it more influence — largely because of how its younger user base values friend-to-friend recommendations.” –  Sarah Perez, TechCrunch

Have you heard of Quibi?

There isn’t much to say about it since not much has happened since it’s launch earlier this year. Quibi is a short-form original content streaming app that offers original content in ‘10-minute or less’ chunks. 

It’s still early days and there’s some controversy around how successful its launch has been. 

You know, I do like the idea of original content that’s designed to entertain me in 10-minutes or less but I don’t know if I’ll pay for it. At the moment the future looks uncertain for an app designed for commuters and launched at the worst time possible for commuting.

And then there’s Microsoft

I know they don’t own TikTok yet but their play for its US business is worth mentioning.

While they do own Xbox, Bing and LinkedIn, for the most part, they’re a business-to-business company. And we all know how it turned the last time when they went into video streaming business.

To be honest, when I first read the news I was all ‘hold on a minute, they wanna do what now?’

But after reading Tim Peterson’s explanation, I think it might just be the right move for Microsoft.

This purchase is going to be costly and their expenses won’t end there. But TikTok will bring Microsoft closer to Gen Z and give it proper legs to stand on against the Facebook-Google duopoly.

TikTok pulls out of Hong Kong

Last week India banned 59 apps from Chinese developers including TikTok. The ban means big losses for ByteDance and influencers.

As Forbes reported;

“ByteDance has invested more than $1 billion to build its vast Indian user base, and now faces losses of as much as $6 billion, as hundreds of millions of users are cut off.”

The latest hit to TikTok came on Monday night from the US Secretary of State. TechCrunch reported that the US is “certainly looking at” banning the app over security concerns.

In the latest move, the app pulled out of Hong Kong. So far their efforts to distance themselves from China aren’t really paying off. It remains to be seen if their political struggles will curb their seemingly unstoppable revenue growth.

TikTok’s absence in India is helping other platforms fill in the gap with their clone apps as TechCrunch reported.

TikTok is baring it all

TikTok is no stranger to underhanded policies.

From discriminating moderator guidelines that discourage content with people deemed ugly, poor or disabled to listening in on your conversations even when you’re not using the app.

But TikTok wants you to forget about it.

This year they hired an ex-Disney executive as their CEO. They also made him the COO of ByteDance, the China-based parent company that owns the app.

They’ve also opened a Transparency Centre in California which is open to the general public.

TikTok is inviting experts and users to visit them in person, share their concerns and see its policies and processes in practice.

ByteDance wants to show people and governments in the EU and the US that it’s distancing itself from China.

Disclosing how its algorithm works or getting incorporated in the Cayman Islands isn’t likely to curb the suspicions around China’s influence over the app anytime soon.

Conspiracy theories around Chinese companies aren’t novel but there’s more to this story.

We’ve gotten used to having our tech made in California and only ‘harmless’ American companies hoarding our data.

But times are changing.

As more Chinese apps and technologies grab global audiences, it may be the time for the developers, users and policymakers to adjust attitudes and policies for a world less centred around America.